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The Progress Principle – A Book Review

I generally do not read business books. Most are pablum. At best, a concept which might have made a decent article is padded out to a pretend book.

The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work is an exception worth your time.

This interesting book focuses on inner work life, our “unspoken perceptions, emotions, and motivations”. And where time and events continue in a pattern, “… those similar experiences can combine to become a formidable force…” positive or negative.

Based on a decade of research with 238 people in 26 projects at 7 companies in 3 industries, the book has lessons which are useful whether you manage people or just yourself.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer are both researchers and professors, so the book is dense with actual experiences taken from over 12, 000 daily work diaries. That is great for all readers who want details and facts to draw from to support their own conclusions.

And there are a lot of summaries, ‘food for thought’ ideas, and ‘tips for managers’ if you are a more intuitive type.

Basically, their concept is that a positive inner work life results in higher productivity for the organization, as well as the individual. And that there are three key influences on a positive inner work life: progress, work catalysts, and personal support (nourishment).

The “progress principle” itself includes a continuing series of small wins, forward movement, and goal achievement. The catalyst factor includes all those management classics: clear goals, autonomy, adequate time and resources, and so on. The nourishment factor includes respect, encouragement, emotional support, and affiliation.

One of the more valuable aspects of the book is that they do not just tell you about a ‘factor’ – they demonstrate it extensively.

Take the nourishment factor as an example: you will find information and definitions of each aspect.

There are specific work examples from participants of both positive and negative leadership behavior and the impact on an individual.

The “Tips for Managers” section details what team leaders and others can do and should not do to enhance positive emotional support. And then you can read a detailed mini-case study of an effective use of the process to keep progress going.

While many of us have been in difficult corporate situations at some point, the book demonstrates that even in such cases, a good team leader can create a positive atmosphere for progress within her own sphere. As an entrepreneur, you have the choice regarding how you frame your company culture — even in difficult times.

This book makes the case for how you can make that culture one which enhances and supports your growth effectively by helping your people progress and thrive.

As someone who has worked with executives and managers extensively, I found their “Daily Progress Checklist” really interesting.

While my first reaction was that it was too detailed for most managers I have worked with, at second thought I realized it had great usefulness. If you are leading a work effort or growing a company, using this consistently for 6-8 weeks could make a significant difference in your achievements. And it would form the basis for ongoing habits that should help you succeed.

And, for all of us – solopreneur or executive – they do write about tending our own inner work lives to be positive and strong. While the idea of a daily review of main events is not new, their examples and ideas will make more sense to you after reading this book than other descriptions of the process may have.

Image from The Progress Principle
– see a Sample chapter after our Contributor’s bio.

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, speaker, and executive with expertise in human capital, and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. She helps small to mid-size organizations achieve their goals through more effective human capital strategy and management. She can be reached through her website SHRinsight.com, where archives for her ongoing management series can be found.


    1. Patra,

      I value your advice a great deal. Thank you for sharing this review!

      1
      • I loved how frank she was about reading business books. “pablum” LOL awesome. @deannamcneil

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